Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Surveying Posters from the Shakespeare Collection

Regular readers of the blog may recall a blog post I wrote earlier this year called ‘The Shakespeare Collection- Everything to Everybody’. If not, you can find it by clicking here.

Since then I have been busy assessing various objects within the collection of posters from the Shakespeare collection. The main aims of assessing these objects are to work out:

  1. The overall condition of the collection
  2. What % of the collection requires conservation treatment
  3. What % of the collection requires re-housing

The survey will also show whether there are any conservation issues which could be potentially hindering access to the Shakespeare collection and inform other aspects of potential future project work.

Surveying the poster collection

Whilst surveying and assessing the posters it became clear that this was a collection which started acquiring material from the 1930s until the 2000s. The collection gives us a snapshot of various techniques of graphic and commercial art from these periods. The earliest posters in the collection were usually drawn by hand but once you get to around the 1960s, silk screen printing really takes off. By the 1990s the bulk of the posters were created using some form of digital printing.

Cracks and losses on the paint layer of a hand drawn poster

Continue reading


The Shakespeare Collection: Everything to Everybody

Archives and Collections have over 6000 collections. These collections range in sheer physical size (our Local Studies collection contains 60,000 items alone!) and in the materials that are contained within them, including but not limited to paper, books, photos, parchment and seals. One of our collections which has been in the local news recently is the Shakespeare Collection.

Consulting the Shakespeare Collection in the Shakespeare Memorial Library

The Birmingham Shakespeare Memorial Library (you can visit the actual Victorian library itself on floor 9!) is one of the West Midlands’ most internationally impressive and long-standing cultural institutions, founded more than a decade before the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Its importance is reflected in the value and variety of its holdings, including the only First Folio in the world “acquired specifically for a public institution as part of a vision of working-class education”, about 70 further rare and early editions, “Pavier” quartos, and a near complete set of eighteenth and nineteenth century English language editions, as well as books in 93 languages from Abkhazian to Zulu.

The Shakespeare Collection contains more than 40,000 volumes, 17,000 production photographs, 2,000 music scores, hundreds of British and international production posters, 15,000 performance programmes, 10,000 playbills, and large collections of illustrations, scrapbooks, annotated scripts, promptbooks, television and radio adaptations, and newspaper cuttings, as well as unique material relating to the greatest Shakespeareans from Ellen Terry to Lawrence Olivier, and remarkable works of art such as Salvador Dalí’s Macbeth illustrations. It is one of the biggest collections that we hold. Continue reading

Handsworth Shakespeare Reading Society

Shakespeare Reading Society reference book [Ref. MS 4907]

One of the many exciting collections to be added to Archives and Collections in 2017 was the records of the Handsworth Shakespeare Reading Society (MS 4907). The society began in 1880 when a group of women in Handsworth Wood decided to meet for a literary afternoon. As the name suggests, this developed in to a society for women which met regularly to read plays by Shakespeare. Membership was by personal invitation only and in 1887 rules were drawn up which specified that there should be nine meetings a year with eight of the nine meetings dedicated to reading Shakespeare plays and the ninth to work by another author.

The archive holds fascinating groups of records that tell us more about the running of the group through the years. Included are annual reports, minute books and the society’s reference book. The reference book includes a dated list of plays read and members who played the principal parts. Minute books in the archive cover the period from 1884-2001 beginning at the group’s 49th meeting and annual reports cover the period 1902-1999.

MS 4907 List of programmes in the Society’s reference book

Over the years group members carried out their own research in to the history of the group and these notes form part of the archive. They discovered that in 1903 the ladies went on, what is thought to be, their first theatre visit to the Stratford Theatre. They met at Snow Hill station, had lunch at the Shakespeare Hotel and then attended a matinee showing of ‘Everyman in his Humour’ by Ben Johnson. The archive contains programmes from some later performances attended by the group.

Continue reading

Behind the scenes at the Shakespeare pop-up exhibition: How to make your very own book cradle- An instructable!

As part of the preparation for the Shakespeare pop-up exhibition book cradles were especially made for a selection of volumes exhibited. This was done to make sure that the books that were displayed were fully supported and not to put undue strain on the open volumes and bindings. Improper display and handling of books can cause irreparable damage! To avoid causing damage to the open volumes each book has a cradle especially made to fit each individual book on the specific page it is opened on!

How to make your very own book cradle

1. Decide what page you want to display your book on.

2. Using a large sheet of paper (bigger than your book!) draw a horizontal line towards the bottom of your sheet of paper.

3. Open your book up to the appropriate page. Stand your book up on your piece of paper with the spine on the horizontal line.

4. Mark on the paper the edges of the boards and the spine.

5. Like dot to dot join up your marks!

6. Measure the lines you have drawn.


7. Pick up your card, mark one end of it to indicate the starting point. Starting a couple of cm along the baseline from the bottom left hand corner, mark on the strip all the points where the line changes direction.

Continue reading

Birmingham Heritage Week – A Retrospective

The Wolfson Centre returned to normal this morning after hosting not one but TWO pop-up exhibitions in the last three days!

Shakespeare First Folio - on display in the Wolfson Centre on Saturday (under strict supervision by our Conservator!)

Shakespeare First Folio – on display in the Wolfson Centre on Saturday (under strict supervision by our Conservator!)

Saturday was another success for our re-run of the Shakespeare: Infinite Varieties exhibition, which included some fabulous items that were previously on show in the gallery as part of Our Shakespeare. Also on display was the First Folio, giving visitors the chance to get up close (but not touch!) this fantastic volume. Believe it or not, the book that drew even more attention was this one:

German Shakespeareans [132093]

German Shakespeareans

It was given to the Library by  Professor Frederik Augustus Leo in 1878 who had clearly appreciated the help he had received when studying! You can access a digital copy online via the Shakespeare Album website.

Last night was the launch of the Children at War project by the Friends of Archives & Heritage. Visitors were again treated to a wonderful exhibition giving a  rich and varied snapshot of the experience of the child during the First World War. This was only the beginning of the project and they would love to hear from people who would like to volunteer and get involved. For details of the project, please visit their website and get in touch through their Contact page!

A great turn out for the Children at War launch event.

Nicola Crews

Shakespeare: Infinite Variety in Birmingham’s Archive & Collections. A pop-up exhibition for Birmingham Heritage Week!

Back by popular demand for Birmingham Heritage Week 2016 and as part of the Library of Birmingham’s programme of events to mark 400 years of Shakespeare, Birmingham Archives & Collections is hosting a pop-up exhibition on Saturday 10th September (1-4pm) to showcase some of the diverse and surprising items you can expect to find that “relate” to Shakespeare held in the Library’s collections! Themes include:

  • What’s in a name… the Birmingham Shakespeares… (yes there are lots!)


  • Shakespeare’s “Beauties”


  • Miniature Shakespeare


  • Reading Shakespeare … and more!


Staff and our invaluable pop-up volunteers will be on hand to talk to you about the items on display, and you might get to spell your name out in Shakespearean letters…


And… if you missed the ‘Our Shakespeare’ exhibition at the Library of Birmingham, you will be able to see some of the highlights close up! Come along and see what we choose…!


Venue and details : 10th September 2016, 1-4pm in the Wolfson Centre, Level 4, Library of Birmingham. Free event. No Booking required.


Shakespeare’s journey to Birmingham

Everybody knows that the library holds a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio. [You didn’t know?! Well then, you should check out the Shakespeare exhibition on level 3.] But how did it come to be in the possession of the library?  To find out the provenance of this important work, I donned my deerstalker and pipe (unlit) to carry out a bit of detective work using the archival records of the Library Committee of the City Council.

The first step was to find out when the first folio came in to the library’s possession.  Each and every item that came into the library from 1879 onwards was given an accession number sequentially from 1 onwards.  The first folio has the accession number 35470.  Knowing this, I was able to check the Location Books (the closest thing we have to accession registers as the actual registers for this period are not extant).  This tells us that the volume came in around 1881.

Armed with this knowledge, I went to the records of the Free Libraries Committee (reference: BCC/1/AT/1/1/5) held in the Archives and Collections stores knowing that I was looking for a minute referring to the first folio somewhere in 1881.

Minutes of the Library Commitee 1881 [BCC/1/AT]

Minutes of the Free Libraries Committee 1881

And there we have it: the Libraries Committee reported on the 7th of December 1881 that the first folio (and, intriguingly, third folio) were bought together for £310 by a resolution of the Management Committee.   To put this into some context, the chief librarian’s salary at that time was £3 a week [cf. BCC/1/AT/1/1/5, minute 4634].  But where were they purchased?  To dig deeper we go to the minutes of the Management Committee (BCC/1/AT/3/1/1).  Sure enough, the minutes for the 29th of September 1881 tell us:

Minutes of the Management Committee [BCC/1/AT/3/1/1]

Minutes of the Management Committee

Continue reading